An Innovative Interdisciplinary Program: Rehabilitation Engineering Technology
Miller, Darlene, Information Technology and Disabilities
Rehabilitation engineers and other rehabilitation professionals have long provided assistive technology to persons with disabilities (Galvin & McLaurin, 1991). An assistive technology device is "any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities" (Public Law 100-819). The use of such devices by persons with disabilities has provided important benefits that increase vocational and independent living opportunities for this population.
The number of individuals needing such services is growing. Over 43 million Americans are classified as disabled. In the last ten years, the number of persons with disabilities pursuing degrees on our nation's campuses has tripled (Rothstein, 1991). The need for assistive technology is ever increasing due to better medical treatment, greater advocacy and increasing independence of those that are physically and mentally challenged. This can be seen in the tremendous increase in the number of service delivery programs throughout the U.S. and an increase in the number of manufacturers of assistive devices.
REHABILITATION ENGINEERING AND THE ROLE OF THE TECHNICIAN
Rehabilitation engineering is the systematic application of scientific and engineering principles to address the needs of persons with disabilities (McQuistion, 1992; Childress, 1984). Rehabilitation engineering professionals play a vital role in the removal of barriers to employability and independent living opportunities among this population. Through the use of assistive technology, the employability, education, communication, daily functioning, and recreational activities of persons with disabilities are all enhanced.
A very important factor that must be addressed with regard to educational programs for rehabilitation engineering personnel on the rehabilitation team is recognition that a mix of rehabilitation engineers, technologists and technicians is required. The need for such a mix was recognized by the Rehabilitation Engineering Professional Specialty Group of RESNA, The Association for the Advancement of Assistive and Rehabilitative Technologies. Engineers are not the only professionals involved in the delivery of rehabilitation and assistive technology services. To adequately provide all of the rehabilitation engineering services necessary to enhance the employability, education, communication, daily functioning, and recreational activities of people with disabilities, an effective rehabilitation engineering team must include engineers, technologists, and technicians. Rehabilitation engineering technicians are the team members who fabricate and modify equipment based on the work of the engineer or engineering technologist (Dolan, 1992). They also work closely with the other members of the rehabilitation team: therapists, physicians, vocational rehabilitation counselors, and most importantly, consumers and their families.
New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) was the first institution of higher education in the country to develop programs to train technicians. NJIT's program consists of a 63 credit hour academic program leading to a certificate in Rehabilitation Engineering Technology. Vermont Technical College is the only institution in the nation to offer a program leading to a degree of Associate in Engineering in Rehabilitation Engineering Technology.
VERMONT TECHNICAL COLLEGE'S PROGRAM
To assist in the development of the curriculum for the associate's degree program, VTC established a Rehabilitation Engineering Technology Advisory Committee. Committee members chosen to represent professional members of the rehabilitation team, rehabilitation engineers and persons with disabilities who are themselves the users of assistive technology.
The committee worked closely with the faculty at VTC to develop the curriculum shown at the end of this article. …